British forces today became directly involved for the first time in the battle to stamp out militias from the Iraqi city of Basra, engaging suspected Mehdi Army positions with artillery.The Times reports that:
The heavily armed 1 Scots Guards battle group, equipped with Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles, was on alert and ready to leave its fortified airbase outside Basra as fighting spread to a string of cities across southern Iraq....
The intense fighting means that Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, is likely to tell the Commons next week that British troop levels will remain at about 4,100 for the next few months, abandoning plans to reduce numbers to 2,500 from the spring.Hang on a second, wasn't the plan announced last October for the troop cut to take place in the spring?
The Times' Foreign Editor Richard Beeston certainly thinks so. If the Iraqis fail and British troops intervene:
any hope of the withdrawal promised by Gordon Brown last year of another 1,500 British troops this spring will have to be shelved until Basra can be stabilised.Beeston argues that Britain is stuck in Iraq without enough troops to make any difference. But at least we can't have an inquiry while they're there. Or can we? The Independent says that:
Gordon Brown's claim that an inquiry into the war in Iraq would be a "distraction" for Britain's troops on the ground has been repudiated by some of the country's former defence chiefs.